Arsenic And Old Lace: A Look At The Beauty Secrets of a Victorian Lady
It's no secret that some cosmetics available today have a plethora of dangerous chemicals and carcinogens that could negatively affect health. With the demand for women's perfect bodies, some may look with envy upon an earlier time, when beauty standards weren't so strict. The Victorian era has been an object of great romance, where paleness and a few extra pounds were actually positive. But as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. These are just some of the strict beauty standards and practices for women in the Victorian Era:
Silhouette Just as it is true now, women depended on their clothing to flatter and shape their body. The desired silhouette of a woman was lovely, round hips and bottom, a heaving bosom, and a small waist. Some women desired their waist to be as small as their head. The corset, first lined with whale bones, then later steel, helped women accentuate their hourglass figures and support good posture. Corsets also supported the breasts before the bra was invented. There were other interesting clothing trends, like bustles; small pillows to accentuate the bottom.
Skin Pale, translucent skin was the optimal complexion of the time. The beauty standard in general venerated pure, young, angelic qualities. White skin denoted purity and it meant a lady was fine enough to not have to toil long hours in the sunlight, as the poor would. Ladies would make homemade skin moisturizers and balms from ingredients found in the kitchen, such as honey, lavender, etc and stay out of the sunlight. Ladies who bought skincare items often got more than they bargained for with dangerous metal ingredients, like lead. Literally, some people painted their faces with lead, completely unaware of the danger. The desire for paleness was so great, sometimes women would paint blue veins on their skin or accentuate dark circles under the eyes.
Cosmetics Cosmetics were extremely controversial in the Victorian era. Typically, the only women who wore heavy makeup were prostitutes and actresses (those being very similar social stations). Despite the taboo use of makeup, almost every lady who could afford it got their hands on it. Powders were used to reduce glossy complexions, and rouge was applied very sparingly to illustrate a youthful, rosy glow. Wax was applied to shape the eyebrows, and body hair was largely unaccepted.
Hairdos Hair was worn generally one way: long. Hair was a woman's crowning glory and should not be cut except in the event of illness. It was worn in loose curls or in very intricate updos and buns. The invention of the curling iron only increased the amount of time spent on hair. Women often wore hair pieces to increase volume, making the size of the head and waist appear the same.
Crazy Beauty Tips Even though the application of poison to the face was an unknown danger, ingesting it was widely realized as unhealthy. However that did not stop upper class women from ingesting small amounts of arsenic, belladonna, and lead to improve their complexions. Withdrawals and overdose were common. Ladies would even drop belladonna in their eyes for a glossy doe-eyed look, which caused blindness. They would also drop fruit and citrus juice in their eyes to make them whiter and clearer. So don't romanticize the past too much. Every era has its impossible standards. Big women cinched themselves in with corsets, and flat women stuffed their clothes to make some curves. Trends come and go. You never know, your exact look might be in trend next!